On Seymour...

So, back to Salinger. I’ve only ever read The Catcher in the Rye, famously formerly banned high school required reading. But it’s been ages, and I can’t say I ever revisited Catcher. In fact, even though I got good grades, loved to be around books, had an inclination toward English classes, edited the HS literary magazine, ended up an English Major in college and edited the university lit mag, I truly only remember reading maybe three books throughout all four years of high school.

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t read the books. I also don’t readily remember character names or story endings for books I may have read last year, but I remember reading them. The tactile experience: place, smells, weather, excitement, sadness, sudden lit light bulbs and so forth. If I flip through the pages, the memories rush back.

But for so many HS books, I can’t even remember picking them up. Call it PTSD or what you will; my memory of that era is shot full of holes. I do know for a fact that I never finished Huck Finn, though I always did want to go back to it, in theory. Other novels—such as Beloved, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine—I can probably thank these books for my (poor) choice of university study.

So, how did this get to be about high school reading anyway? I wanted to say what I loved about Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.
While Seymour did start to get a little old with the narrator, Buddy’s, description of his older suicided brother, Seymour, I love the tone, the voice, the undercurrent throughout. And what Salinger was trying to do: keep Buddy’s older role model brother young alive and still a model, someone who Buddy can continue learning from. In that way Buddy is able to deal (or not deal) with his grief. Or more accurately, he starts to reminisce and to grieve. We bear witness to this as writing about Seymour’s eyes and nose becomes excruciating reason for naps.

While the entire novella reads self-consciously as a writer writing a book, the “transcription” of Seymour’s letter to Buddy after Seymour stayed up all night reading one of Buddy’s short stories (in the story) is a beautiful collection of tips for writers. “Don’t make me proud of you,” Seymour writes. “If only you’d never keep me up again out of pride. Give me a story that makes me unreasonably vigilant. Keep me up again till five only because all your stars are out, and for no other reason.”

Seymour isn’t not praising the Buddy’s story. It kept him up till 5 a.m., but he’s warning him against perfection. As “trite” as it sounds, Seymour mainly wants to tell Buddy: “Please follow your heart, win or lose.” Don’t get carried away by what others want or by what you think others want. (Oh, this is so often when we miss the shot.) Essentially Seymour advises Buddy: don’t aim. Let accident happen.

This ties in with Buddy feeling it necessary to drop poetry entirely if one is to settle and stop seeking… well, perfection. I puzzled over this passage for some time. If one is able to loosen up, as it were, and accept things as they are, why is that a call to “drop poetry altogether?” I reread this passage several times, thinking what does it mean… exactly? At the end of the novella, Seymour re-utters his no-aim refrain, suggesting that Buddy stop trying so hard while playing marbles. Sure, Buddy always hits the target, but there’s no fun in it, no adventure. No serendipity. Nothing learned.

Which brings me back to what does it mean exactly

As I write this I realize that as a reader, too, I’m shouldering my perfectionist tendencies. Part of me, what I will call my intuitive and more intelligent side, wants to accept this line of thought as somehow profound; it’s certainly interesting. Another (rational, bogarting analytical) part is saying, what the heck do you mean by that? I want an answer. I want my target to be hit. But the fact that such a passage stops me in my tracks means my target was bullseyed. Go figure. I didn’t even know I had a target. So, perfectionism aside, my target, which might not have even existed before someone struck it, was indeed struck by accident, without aiming. Aiming for what? Exactly…

It’s funny that I’ve written all about Seymour, when during the read it was Raise High that I enjoyed most. But it seems I’ve run out of time. I’m hungry, and it’s time for breakfast, coffee and phone calls.

1 comment:

Claire Kiefer said...

This makes me want to re-read Salinger . . . it's been a while, and I think it's time . . . 9 Stories was always my favorite, though they're all pretty incredible.


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